The perfect smartphone: The Google iPhone

I have a boss who amusingly called his smartphone an Android iPhone for months before realizing that “iPhone” was not a synonym for “smartphone.” That kind of mashup of a device will probably never happen, but I think I’ve created something much better than the concept of an Android phone running iOS or an iPhone running Android.

What I have is a Google iPhone, meticulously crafted by adding the power of Google’s stable of apps and services to an already capable smartphone. My Google iPhone delivers the perfect experience, a combination of the best hardware, features, apps and services of Apple and Google.

Hardware

The iPhone has excellent build quality — not even the most ardent Android fan can argue with that. It’s a beautifully crafted device of aluminum and glass with no flaws, creaks or uneven seams. It’s thin and light and houses some best-in-class hardware.

The iPhone 5s’s gorgeous body houses the world’s first 64-bit processor in a smartphone. The A7 processor is faster and more powerful than nearly anything packed into a mobile phone on any platform. The 64-bit A7 chip is essentially a desktop-class processor that produces fluid graphics, high frame rates and outstanding performance browsing the web, launching apps, surfing the web and playing games.

And if that weren’t enough, the A7 is backed up by the efficient, power-conserving M7 co-processor. The M7 chip measures motion data from the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass. Apps that track physical activity can retrieve that data from the M7 without using the A7 chip, which helps conserve battery life. The M7 even tracks when you’re not moving and cuts down on searching for networks, further saving your battery.

Another hardware feature that’s head and shoulders above the Android competition is Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor. Touch ID is simple to set up and use, and allows you to unlock the iPhone with just a touch as well as purchase songs, TV shows, movies and books from Apple’s stores.

Operating System

Here’s where you Android fans will probably want to jump in. “You can’t customize as much on an iPhone and you don’t have as much control in iOS,” you’ll say. This is true — to a point. No, there aren’t as many customizable elements of an iPhone. But at some level, that adds to the appeal of iOS. It’s an intuitive operating system, easy to use and explain. This consistency of experience can come in handy. Most of my family, friends and co-workers own iPhones or have experience with iOS devices. This makes it easy for me to provide tech support when someone comes upon the rare unfamiliar feature or setting.

The Home button, Spotlight search, Notification Center, Control Center and Siri are all easy to access, use and understand. There’s not as much of a learning curve on iOS as there is on Android. Your smartphone is likely the device you’ll spend the most time with each day. It needs to work in a consistent, easy-to-understand manner that doesn’t require a lot of setup or tweaking.

And there are two characteristics of Apple’s mobile operating system that Android owners would love to have. I never have to wait for an update to iOS. When Apple is ready to release it, the update comes to my phone that day. I don’t have to wait for some OEM to work on it first, and I don’t have to wait for my carrier to push it out. There are zero delays in getting the latest software powering my device. In fact, my iPhone is updating to iOS 7.1.1 as I type this article. And because Apple has control over both its hardware and software, there’s also no carrier bloatware, no redundant manufacturer apps and no awkward manufacturer skin on the OS.

Camera and Photos

The iPhone’s iSight camera is recognized as one of the best cameras in a smartphone thanks to a powerful combination of hardware and software. The iSight features continuous burst mode, dual true-tone flash, best-in-class image processing, auto-image stabilization, 120 frames-per-second 720p video, quarter-speed video playback for slow-motion video, live video zoom, panorama mode and the ability to apply photo filters before and after you shoot.

And here’s where Google first augments the power of my iPhone. Google+ automatically backs up all my photos to the cloud and enhances them to boot. This allows me to free up precious storage space on my phone.

Email

Gmail is my email client of choice for personal use, but I like using Apple’s stock Mail app on my iPhone rather than the Gmail app. This is no problem as the Mail app incorporates not only my two Gmail accounts, but also my Yahoo account as well as my work Exchange account. I can view all my email accounts in one unified inbox, check all my unread messages across accounts in one folder, create a VIP folder that incorporates all the accounts, and even move messages from one account to another.

Phone and Video Calls

Not much to quibble about here. The iPhone 5s is LTE-capable and sports 13 LTE bands with Voice over LTE rumored to be included in the iPhone 6. Audio quality is no issue, and I can’t remember the last time I dropped a call. With iOS 7 I can also block unwanted calls, make FaceTime audio calls, which are essentially high-quality VoIP calls, as well as make video calls with FaceTime. Google’s Hangouts app also provides quick voice calls and video calls to your contacts as well as people you encounter on Google+.

Messaging

Between Apple and Google, this is all taken care of. The iPhone’s Messages app lets me quickly send an iMessage to anyone using an iOS device or Mac as well as send ordinary SMS text messages. Google’s Hangouts allows me to chat with anyone who has the app, whether they’re using an iOS or Android device, or on a Windows PC, a Mac or a Chromebook. In both cases, using Messages or Hangouts will sync my conversations on my devices.

Virtual Assistant

A voice-enabled virtual assistant isn’t yet perfect on any platform, but I’ve got a 1-2 punch that works pretty well. Between Siri’s app-launching and integration with Apple’s stock apps and the use of Google Now from the Google Search app, I’ve got some pretty robust voice-enabled features. Plus, getting Siri to launch the Google Search app so I can use “OK, Google” hands-free is ironic and actually works really well.

Music and Movies

No offense, Apple, but Google Play Music’s got your Music app beat. I used Google’s Music Manager on my laptop to scan and upload my entire iTunes library to the cloud. I can store 20,000 songs for free and stream them from any device. That blows away iTunes Match and its $25-a-year subscription and frees up more storage space on my iPhone. Apple’s iTunes is a great store to find video content, but my Google iPhone can also access any content I’ve bought through the Google Play Store through Google’s YouTube app.

Surfing the Internet

Thanks to the tab-syncing across devices, Google’s Chrome is my browser of choice. It enjoys seamless integration with other Google apps as well as several prominent third-party apps. Apple’s Safari, on top of being the default browser on the iPhone, also has a killer feature: the “Reader” function. Whenever I want to read an article on a site that’s not necessarily configured for mobile, I don’t need to double-tap or pinch to zoom, I can just use the Reader to strip away everything but the article and photos, giving me a clean, almost e-book-like display of text.

Maps and Navigation

Here’s another category where my Google iPhone packs a 1-2 punch. Between Apple’s Maps and Google Maps, I’m covered with all the data, views, routing for walking, driving and public transportation, and spoken turn-by-turn navigation that I could ever ask for.

Calendar

Apple’s stock Calendar app continues to add features and it supports Google calendar integration. Plus, I can use Siri and Google Now both to add events and manage my schedule.

Apps and the App Store

Apple’s App Store boasts a library of over 900,000 iPhone-specific apps and counting. Apps generally come to iOS first rather than Android and generally have more features, even Google’s own apps. Android fragmentation is to blame. It’s much simpler to develop and test an app for a few iOS devices and screen sizes than it is to debug an Android app that will run on hundreds of devices and display sizes. Google apps, such as Gmail, Hangouts, Google+ and Google Maps, often sport updated features on iOS weeks and sometimes even months before Android users receive the same functionality.

Harry McCracken broke it down simply in a recent article on Time.com: “If you’ve got an iPhone, you can pretty much assume that any major app that wouldn’t be nixed by Apple’s App Store policies will be available to you, and that you’ll get future updates at least as early as anyone else.

“If you’ve got an Android phone, you’ll get most major apps. But there are exceptions. And even when an app or update comes your way, you might need to wait for weeks or months after the iOS version is available.”

With the launch of iOS 7, Apple now offers several marquee apps for free to buyers of new devices: iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand and its iWork suite of apps, Pages, Numbers and Keynote. And Apple recently introduced CarPlay with iOS 7.1 that features integration with an in-dash system for new vehicles beginning this year along with several after-market systems.

Productivity, Cross-Platform and the Cloud

This is an area where Apple’s reputation is less than stellar. But thanks to Google, my iPhone doesn’t miss a beat.

Pages, Numbers and Keynote all are improved and sync with Apple’s iCloud for use on other devices, but Google’s own alternative apps — Docs, Sheets and Presentation — are simpler to use and have more robust features. Google Drive puts iCloud to shame, both in its functionality with a true file system as well as in storage space. And Google Drive offers 15GB of storage space for free compared with iCloud’s paltry 5GB.

Apple’s cross-platform strengths, other than iCloud’s limited features, lie in syncing with Mac computers and other iOS devices. But not everybody owns an iPhone, an iPad and a MacBook Pro. Here again, Google saves the day. Thanks to cross-platform apps that work on iOS, PCs running Chrome and Chromebooks using Chrome OS, I enjoy seamless transitions from one device to another. And it’s not just Google apps — including my favorite social network, Google+ — that provide this functionality. Major third-party apps such as Feedly, Pushbullet and SimpleNote work well between their iOS and Chrome versions.

The Total Package

To me, a Google iPhone is hands-down the most perfect smartphone on the planet. Wherever Apple’s flagship handset has a chink in its armor, Google has dutifully stepped up and filled it. The device boasts the best of both worlds, and I can’t wait to see how iOS 8 and the iPhone 6 raise the bar into the stratosphere.


About Chris Cox

I love technology, but I could do without the tinkering. I'm a firm believer in technology that just works. If it's intuitive, that leads to greater adoption, which leads to more advances, and that benefits us all. That said, a little tinkering on the front end that helps you every day is worth the effort. I'm all for simple solutions that keep me -- and you -- from reinventing the wheel every day.